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By Eric Heinz
A series of recent break-ins around downtown and the Outlets at San Clemente show a concerted effort by organizations coming through the city and scoping out vulnerable businesses.
“We do have some crews out of Los Angeles and Long Beach that are very well organized and planned,” San Clemente Police Services Chief Lt. Mike Peters said. “They come down, will surveil the area—they’re surveilling this coastline all the way down to Sunset Cliffs, San Diego. We’ve arrested people, not recently, but in the past who have lists of businesses all the way down.”
Peters said these lists include details of businesses as to whether they have alarms, cameras, their location and ways to break into them. He said the burglars are inside the businesses for one or two minutes at most.
“A while back, when Tommy’s Family Restaurant and Coffee Shop (located at 1409 S El Camino Real) was burglarized, the way that they did it, they smash (the door or window), they go in and know exactly where they’re going to in the location,” Peters said.
Arcade Camera, located at 131 Avenida Del Mar, Suite A, was broken into on July 30 and more than $45,000 worth of merchandise was stolen, according to police records. Designs by Nature, located at 400 S El Camino Real, Suite A, also experienced a break-in on Sept. 25.
Emails to the San Clemente Times from Designs by Nature stated the burglars likely used a crowbar. There also was a break-in at the Outlets at San Clemente on Sept. 29.
Peters said in some cases the speed of the break-ins has been aided by people who work at the establishments—or “an inside job.” But in other cases, the perpetrators will sit around the business, watch for specific weak points and return to exploit them.
“They can sometimes figure out the placement of the (surveillance) cameras,” Peters said, adding sometimes businesses use fake cameras to present the illusion of protection. “They think the crooks aren’t going to notice that or see it, but sometimes that (information) comes from inside sources.”
The groups that are coming from LA and Long Beach are likely tied to the Insane Crip gangs in Long Beach, which Peters said have been arrested in the South Orange County area for related crimes in the past. He said the methods of operations are almost identical to past burglaries.
Video shows how burglars get in and out of San Clemente business in 2015:
“They know that if there are no weapons and no violence, even if they get caught, they’re not going to spend a lot of time in jail,” Peters said.
That acknowledgement of spending minimal time behind bars is tied to the effects of Prop 47 and Assembly Bill 109, which reduced incarceration for nonviolent misdemeanors significantly throughout California. Prop 57, approved last November by voters, also reduces jail time and emphasizes rehabilitation sentencing instead.
The bills have been criticized at San Clemente City Council meetings as giving too much leniency on property crime and gives habitual criminals the leeway to continue their illegitimate practices.
Even if the crimes are enough to warrant felony charges, the actual jail time is minimal compared to the state’s old schedules.
“These thefts are happening anywhere there’s a major artery (or highway),” Peters said. “Anywhere you have a quick way to escape, that’s where they’re hitting. The closer to the artery, the better.”
Random burglaries, such as burglarizing unlocked vehicles or homes, are a different story. Peters said typically those thefts are committed by people trying to make a quick buck.
“Some of the things we see on all the thefts are people not wanting to be victims, but they want something done. Yet, they don’t want to go through the court process to get something done,” Peters said. “I think people are aware that (the burglars) are not going to be in jail very long, and it adds to the fear factor.”
According to statistics from Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the overseeing agency of San Clemente Police Services, property crime incidents in San Clemente rose 42.6 percent from 2014 to 2016. Larceny also increased during this time.